Authors: Norman Russell
‘Do you remember what the young man’s name was?’
‘His name? Colbourne. “The Man on the Flags”, we called him, on account of him being found lying there on the
. Yes, that’s right. Henry Colbourne, bachelor, aged twenty-seven.’
‘You’ve a marvellous memory, Pa. Did you ever find the watch?’
‘No. We scoured all the pawnshops and frightened all the receivers – you know the kind of thing I mean. But that watch just disappeared. Maybe they took fright, I don’t know. It may have been one of the Chester Stokeley gang, or one of that mob out Ratcliffe way, who’d come into the City for rich pickings, and then melt away – Chokey Garland’s crowd. But we never solved it. It’s still on the file, as like as not.’
Inspector Box finished his coffee. Another garrotting. Another watch. Amelia Garbutt, lady’s maid, garrotted. James Hungerford, businessman, shot dead and his watch taken. Coincidence? Perhaps.
‘I remember, now, Pa, you telling me that story. What made you think it wasn’t really a street robbery?’
‘Well, for one thing, the purse. We found it lying empty on the flags, just near the young man’s body, in the angle formed by the church and the back of the coffee house. Now, when you’ve just murdered someone, Arnold, right in the open street, where anybody might come upon you, you don’t stop and open your victim’s purse. He’d already taken his watch, which was a risk in itself. What he’d have done was put the purse in his pocket and make off with it.’
Old Mr Box laid the clay pipe down in the hearth. He shook his head sadly.
‘Nothing came of it, Arnold. Such a waste of a promising young man! He was a solicitor, or lawyer’s clerk, something of that kind. As I said, it’ll still be on the files as like as not.’
Inspector Box rose to his feet. He looked around the snug little den and glanced into the long cigar divan with its three windows overlooking Oxford Street. There were more people in the room now, and the air was thick with smoke.
‘Is everything all right here, Pa?’
‘It’s fine, Arnold. I’ve earned more here than I ever did in the police. I certainly put that little pension to good use! First the baccy shop, then the barber’s, then up here with the divan – yes, everything’s going fine.’
Inspector Box made his way downstairs into the shop. He saw that the man behind the counter was waiting expectantly for him to ask a question.
‘Is he all right, Sam? He’s got his stick with him today.’
Sam shook his head, and sighed.
‘His leg’s been cruel bad, Mr Box. Dr Hooper wants him to see Mr Howard Paul, but he won’t hear of it.’
‘That’s because he knows Howard Paul would take the leg off, Sam. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.’
Box pursed his lips and frowned. The legacy of Joseph Edward Spargo’s bullet in 1875 was proving to be a bitter one.
As Inspector Box pushed open the swing doors of his office, Sergeant Knollys threw a scuttleful of coal on to the fire in the old iron grate, and proceeded to make hideous noises with a poker.
Knollys didn’t have George Boyd’s skill with the scuttle, but it was a day that would be all the better for a banked-up fire.
‘Finesse, Sergeant! Even a scuttle can be treated gently. I expect you’ll learn.’
The big sergeant smiled to himself, and reached for a
ham sandwich that lay among the riot of papers on the desk.
‘How did it go, sir?’
‘It went very well, Sergeant. Mr Berg enjoyed himself hugely, as they say, and between us we confirmed what you and I suspected all along. ‘The “Drowned Woman, Known to God”, was the same person as Amelia Garbutt, lady’s-maid, age not established.’
Inspector Box sat down in his usual chair at the crowded table. He donned a pair of little round gold spectacles, and began to search for a pencil.
‘The dress is now securely under lock and key, Sergeant Knollys. I want you to go straight away to Madame Laplace’s
dress salon in Bond Street. I’ll write the address down for you, as soon as I’ve … Mr Berg identified the dress as one of this lady’s creations. Go and see her. Find out who she made the dress for. And while you’re in Bond Street, call in to Asprey’s, and show them the necklace.’
Box began to tunnel under the papers in his search for the means wherewith to write. Why was he not allowed to keep a single pencil?
‘Before this case is over, Sergeant, you’ll be a familiar sight in Bond Street. Shopping with the toffs. And talking of toffs, there’s to be a plain-clothes detail from “A” Division for the Queen’s Drawing-room this coming Saturday.’
Box looked at his new sergeant, who had sat down opposite him. Her Majesty’s Drawing-room … A kind of indoor garden party, it was. Perhaps Sir Francis Knollys would be there. He was Gentleman Usher to Her Majesty. The sergeant looked up, caught Box’s speculative glance, and smiled.
‘I’ll bring you back a fairy cake, sir, wrapped up in a doily.’
Inspector Box laughed. Somehow, the old, faded room, with its spluttering gas mantle and blackened ceiling, seemed to have transformed itself for a moment into a welcoming, well-run centre of operations. Perhaps the presence of Jack Knollys had something to do with it.
Box abandoned his search among the papers. His shoulders slumped in defeat, and the light from the gas mantle glinted off the little round lenses of his spectacles.
‘I used to have dozens of pencils, Sergeant Knollys. I just want to write down … I could write whenever I liked. I don’t know why there aren’t any now.’
Sergeant Knollys silently handed his superior officer a
, beautifully sharpened pencil which he produced with a flourish from behind an unframed photograph of Princess May of Teck that was propped up against the big fly-blown mirror. Box accepted it gratefully.
‘Where did you get that from?’
‘I bought it, sir, together with two others. There should always be pencils, and there weren’t any here that I could find. I’ve hidden the other two where thieving hands won’t find them.’
‘I think,’ said Box thoughtfully, ‘that you and I are going to get on very well together, Sergeant. You’ve got a good sense of
. Now let me write down the address of this Madame Laplace.’
Box removed his glasses and folded them into a little tin case.
‘You know, Sergeant,’ he said, ‘this green dress business is an intrusion. I could have done without it. I’m after Gideon Raikes and his minions, who are collectively up to some evil connected with explosives. George Boyd’s keeping them all in his sights – the Doyle brothers, Jimmy the Docker, and all the other riffraff emanating from Percy Liversedge and his master. This Amelia Garbutt affair’s getting in the way. It was his idea to send me down there. As usual, I wasn’t even allowed to speak.’
‘What do you mean, sir? Whose idea?’
‘Him. Him upstairs. The Ancient of Days.’
Box glanced briefly at the blackened ceiling, and added, for good measure, ‘“Pavilioned in splendour, and girded with praise”. I sometimes think—’
The swing doors opened, and Sergeant Boyd clattered into the room. He was clutching a sausage roll in one hand, and what appeared to be a couple of rolled-up blueprints in the other. Flakes of puff pastry began to fall on to the floor.
‘Sir,’ said George Boyd, ‘I’ll not keep you long. But – hello! Are you Sergeant Knollys? A distinguished name, indeed! I’ll
a curtsy for future use. Aren’t you going to introduce us, sir?’
‘Sergeant Knollys, this untidy, cheeky crumb-shedder is Detective Sergeant Boyd, of “B” Division. We’re not good enough for him, it seems, so he won’t join us on a permanent basis. George, this is Sergeant Jack Knollys. He’s privy to all my current fads and fancies, so you can speak openly in his
‘Pleased to meet you, Jack. Now, sir, I’ve got something here to show you. Mr Mackharness wants to see it, too. Can we make a bit of space on the table?’
Boyd unrolled two blueprints, each about two feet square, and laid them out flat. They were the plans of two extensive
areas, showing a warren of small chambers connected by narrow passages.
‘This one here, sir,’ said Boyd, using his sausage roll as a pointer, ‘is the original cellar area of what is now the bullion vault of the Royal Roumanian Credit Bank in Prince Frederick Street. I got this from the lessees, the Grandpont Estate. They’re also the landlords.’
Inspector Box brushed aside some flaky crumbs, and looked closely at the plan.
‘Dated 1831, and entitled, “Cellarage of Premises at 12 Prince Frederick Street”. This wall on the right – there’s a pencilled note, saying it’s built on the footings of its predecessor: “old party wall of porous red brick, shared with back-to-back
at 3 Prince Frederick Mews, adjacent”.
‘The other plan, sir, shows the cellars of the present shop premises at 3 Prince Frederick Mews. You can see the same party wall there, from the other side, as it were. The other side of the same wall. All you have to do, is to tunnel through the soft brick footings, and you’re in the vaults of the bank.’
‘Well done, George! Superintendent Mackharness will be very interested to see these plans. He’ll want to set up one of his great chessboards full of bobbies, and move Percy and his friends into a corner they can’t get out of … He’s very good at that kind of thing. It’s an old military movement that he brought with him from his army days. Anything else for me, George?’
Sergeant Boyd sat down at the table beside Knollys. His
face grew serious.
‘First of all, the Bank of England are soon to move a hundred thousand pounds in bullion to the Roumanian Credit Bank. They won’t tell me when – Not without a letter from the commissioner. That’s a mere detail, but it makes you think!
‘And now, two more little things, sir, and you, Jack – you’re in on this. First, a name’s been painted over that empty shop.
. Properly done, by a tradesman. Those crates I told you about – the ones they were moving from Callaghan’s Warehouse – they ended up in a private yard at Beecham Street, just over half a mile away from the empty shop.
‘The second little thing, is that I’ve got an informer in with them. Sam Palin. You know Sam, don’t you sir? Well, he’s there. And he’ll tell me when the job’s afoot. When they’re breaching
the party wall. That’s when Old Growler’s checkmate will occur.’
Sergeant Boyd rolled up the blueprints, and cradled them in his arms. He treated both the others to one of his perennially cheerful smiles.
‘That’s it, then, sir. I’m due upstairs in ten minutes. If it’s all the same with you, I’ll go through to the back, and see if PC Kenwright will give me a cup of tea.’
‘Do by all means, Sergeant,’ said Box. ‘Well done! It’s all coming very nicely together. And mind your head!’
Arnold Box took the old-fashioned key from his pocket, and fitted it into the lock of the glory-hole. The key turned smoothly in the lock, and Box entered the cavernous storeroom that lay beneath the staircase of 2 King James’s Rents.
The glory-hole contained stacks of wooden shelves bulging with bales of yellowing paper, a broken chair, and a ledge-like table fixed to the end wall. Box groped his way between the racks until he reached the table. He struck a match, and lit a
that curved from the wall. He put on his gold-framed glasses and began to search.
It took him ten minutes to locate the slim cardboard file tied with blue tape and labelled, ‘Henry Colbourne. 1867. 1 November. Per Sgt. T. Box, “B” Division’. Under the label someone had scrawled in blue crayon the words, ‘Coroner’s Verdict Accepted’.
‘Was it indeed?’ Box murmured. ‘And was it correct? Sergeant T. Box evidently thought otherwise.’
He opened the folder and spread out the hand-written sheets on the table. The ink had faded to brown, but there were pencilled annotations, still dark and urgent. He read carefully and patiently for over half an hour.
Henry Colbourne, bachelor, aged twenty-seven … A member of Gray’s Inn. Had joined the distinguished legal practice of Foxley and Forwood of Carter Lane, St Paul’s. ‘The deceased was of faultless reputation, distinguished by a particularly upright and blameless moral stance.’ That had been the view of Mr Graham Foxley, solicitor, testifying to young Henry
Colbourne’s excellence, and his many virtues, given at the coroner’s inquest. Inspector Box sat back in the creaking chair and shaded his eyes from the glare of the gas jet. He could hear movement on the ground floor above in the area of his office. No doubt someone was looking for him. (Gray’s Inn. Perhaps there was a link there? Gideon Raikes had been a member of Gray’s Inn.)
What else? Examination of the body had revealed death to have been caused by strangulation, effected by means of a scarf or necktie thrown around the neck from behind and pulled tight. Traces of a silken material were found in the ligature.
Box read his father’s careful report, which had been copied from his note book into a report document. He read the report of the coroner’s inquest, with its verdict, ‘murder committed by some person or persons unknown, in the pursuit of theft’. Also appended was a comment by the coroner:
I am alarmed by the prevalence of barbaric crimes of this sort at the present time. It may be that these miscreants are motivated primarily by gain, but the method adopted by them to rob the person has in several cases, including this present one, led to the death of the person so robbed. I look to the police to pursue these cases with particular vigour.
Inspector Box carefully packed the papers back into their folder and tied the blue tape securely. He slid the story of Henry Colbourne back into its dusty rack, turned off the gas, and groped his way back to the stairs.
Inspector Box alighted from an omnibus in Church End, Finchley, and made his way along pleasant roads of red brick houses skirting a number of playing fields and open spaces. Turning into a spanking-new avenue of modern villas, where the wide grass verges had been planted with hopeful saplings, he knocked at the door of the third house on the right-hand side. It was a severe sort of door, painted a shiny black, and with a diamond-shaped window of obscure glass.
The door opened, and a trim little maid in cap and apron looked enquiringly at him. He could see that she was repressing an inclination to giggle. She knew who he was, but they’d both have to go through the usual charade of question and answer.
‘Is Miss Whittaker at home?’
‘Yes, sir. Who shall I say’s calling?’
‘Tell her it’s Inspector Box, from Scotland Yard – for goodness’ sake, Ethel, you know quite well who I am! Just go and tell your missus that I’m here.’
Two years had passed since Box had first encountered Miss Louise Whittaker, who had been summoned as an expert witness in a fraud case. He had been very taken with her, and she had not objected when he had asked permission to visit her from time to time – in a purely professional capacity, of course. She was a lady, and far too good for the likes of him.
Ethel stood back to let Box enter the narrow hallway of the semi-detached house, and disappeared into a room on the right,
closing the door behind her. Box carefully manoeuvred himself around a lady’s bicycle propped against the hall stand, and waited for Ethel to return. Why did she have to giggle every time he called? It made him feel like a fool. Anyone would think … And what were those two laughing at in there, now? A little round-faced chit of a maid, no more than fourteen, and Miss Louise Whittaker, a lady scholar from London University?
When Ethel returned, her face showed nothing but demure inscrutability.
‘Miss Whittaker will see you now, sir,’ she said. ‘You’re to go on in.’ Ethel hurried away through the kitchen door into the rear quarters of the house.
Box entered the large front room. A lady scholar … Were they all as serenely beautiful as the raven-haired young woman who rose from a desk in the wide bay window to greet him? Mr Berg would have admired her grey dress, with its leg-of-mutton sleeves, and the tasteful white cuffs and collar that went with it. Perhaps he would have liked her voice, too: amused, musical, educated, carrying its own subtle authority.
‘So, Mr Box,’ said Louise Whittaker, ‘once again Scotland Yard is baffled! How can the female philologist help you this time?’
Miss Whittaker resumed her seat at the desk in the
. Box looked at her as she started to sift through various books and papers spread out in front of her. She’s going to talk to me, thought Box, and pretend not to look at me, so that I’ll admire her curly eyelashes. Well, she’s not the only person who has a desk full of rustling papers. We’re not exactly paperless at King James’s Rents! He moved impatiently. It wasn’t nice being treated as part of the furniture.
‘Why must you always be sitting at that confounded desk whenever I call? Why can’t you sit down at your fireside like any other woman?’
Miss Whittaker laughed, closed the book that she had picked up, and came to sit by the fire. She motioned Box to a chair.
‘Put your hat and gloves on that little table, Mr Box. You clutch them so fiercely to your bosom that I’m sure you think I’m going to steal them. There: I’ve sat down, and folded my hands submissively in my lap. Now, how can I be of assistance?’
How beautiful she was! Brains and beauty, and she knows quite well how much I admire her. Well, what harm is there in that?
‘Miss Whittaker, I want to share a small problem with you. I need a woman’s slant. It all starts with a lady’s body being fished from a canal in a remote corner of Essex.’
As Box outlined the story of Amelia Garbutt’s death, he saw Louise Whittaker’s face become grave. Her bantering mood had been put aside, and she was giving him her total attention.
‘So there it is, ma’am. I shall be returning to Essex within the week, and would feel more sure of what I was going to do if I went down there with a few answers to possible questions. Why did Miss Garbutt go out clad only in her green dress on an autumn night? Does it mean that she was going only a very short distance? Or perhaps she had seen a carriage draw up in the lane, and joined someone whom she knew—’
‘Let us not fly ahead of the facts, Mr Box,’ said Louise Whittaker. ‘The first point I would urge you to consider is this: Miss Garbutt did not go out without a topcoat. This is simply not done. Have you examined her effects?’
‘No, ma’am. At the time, you see, I hadn’t identified the body with any certainty, so I didn’t visit the house where she was employed.’
‘Well, you will no doubt look in her wardrobe when you go there. But you may discount the idea that she ran out to a
carriage. If she was wearing a dress which, according to this Essex police sergeant, her employer had never seen before, then she would have donned it for a specific purpose.’
Miss Whittaker smoothed out the fabric of her own dress where it fell before the knee.
‘What purpose could that be, Miss Whittaker?’
The woman scholar made a sound of impatience.
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, Mr Box, what other purpose is there apart from the obvious one? Why do
of our ridiculous sex go to these fatuous lengths? It was to please a man.’
‘Yes. Miss Garbutt was resorting to some kind of subterfuge. We commonly do, given our current status in society. She had
been invited to an assignation – either that, or to a gathering of people above her station. So she made certain that her employer knew nothing about it. She would have put on a topcoat, and certainly a hat.’
Louise Whittaker stopped speaking, and seemed lost in thought for a while. She had obviously become absorbed in the mystery of Amelia Garbutt.
‘The oddest thing is, Mr Box,’ she said at last, ‘that she should have gone wherever she did go, alone. It suggests that the man – there will be a man – was not sure that she would come, and therefore did not send a groom or other servant to fetch her. It also seems to me that she could only have been going
‘Yes, ma’am, that certainly seems to be indicated. There are very few people living in the area.’
‘And then she was murdered … Somewhere, Mr Box, there will be a topcoat, a hat, possibly a scarf, hidden away. Or maybe destroyed. A man would, perhaps, destroy such things. A woman – have you considered that it might have been a woman?’
‘No, ma’am. You see, the body must have been carried up a slope to the canal and tipped into the water-channel. I should think it would need a man to do that.’
‘Yes, I see. Still, those things may have been hidden rather than destroyed. A woman might have hidden them, or even kept them. We tend to have keepsakes, you know – rings, locks of hair, old letters, photographs … Have I been of any help?’
‘You have, ma’am. But, you know – I sometimes think, Miss Whittaker, that you don’t care for men very much! It’s the way you talk – a man this, a man that. It ruffles my feathers a bit, if you’ll pardon the expression. Don’t you like us, then?’
Box felt himself blushing at his own effrontery.
Louise Whittaker laughed. She stood up and leaned elegantly on the mantelpiece, looking down at her visitor. There was a graveness in her manner, but no trace of hostility.
‘I don’t like some of the assumptions men make about women, Mr Box. But that doesn’t mean that I dislike the male sex as a matter of principle. I quite like some of its members. I like
In fact, I’ve been wondering of late why you have taken to calling on me. My original purpose was to throw light on some obscure scripts, in order to put a bold forger behind bars. Since then, we have seen you out here in Finchley no fewer than six – no, seven – times. You ask me questions, Mr Box, but most of those questions you could answer yourself.’
He mustn’t blush again! What would she think of him? And yet there was more than a grain of truth in her gently mocking words.
‘I come here to ask you things, Miss Whittaker, because you’re a clear thinker. There are quick thinkers around in abundance – I’m one of them, but I don’t always think clearly, whereas you do. And the other reason I come is that – well, I should have thought that was obvious. Your little maid Ethel evidently knows why I come, and I expect you do as well. I like you, Miss Whittaker, and that’s the simple truth underlying that particular mystery.’
Box looked up as he said these words, and found himself being appraised by a pair of steady blue eyes. Miss Whittaker smiled, and turned towards her desk.
‘It’s not a crime to like someone, Mr Box,’ she said. ‘But come, you and I have our various tasks to do. I’ll ring for Ethel to see you out.’
Miss Whittaker resumed her seat at the desk and opened the pages of her book. She took up a pen and dipped it in the ink well. Inspector Box retrieved his hat and gloves.
Ethel, in response to the bell, came into the room.
‘Can you come to tea one Sunday afternoon? Or will the
Inspector Box reeled slightly as he turned round to the window. He looked comically delighted and confused. Ethel began to giggle again, this time quite openly.
‘What? Tea? Do you mean here?’
‘Where else? Drop me a line, saying when you can come, and all will be made ready. Now go, Mr Box: solve your crimes, and keep us safe!’
Arnold Box glanced around the first-floor drawing-room of an
elegant town mansion in Carlton House Terrace, and wondered how it would look if the dust sheets were removed from the furniture, and the chandelier released from the black silk bag that imprisoned it. Three small gilt chairs had been uncovered, two of them for him and Sergeant Knollys. The third chair was occupied by a lady of fifty or so, dark-haired and bright-eyed. She was wearing a long, caped outdoor coat, and a rather fussy but fashionable hat.
‘You’ve chosen a curious moment to visit us, Inspector Box,’ said the lady, glancing down at a printed calling-card that Box had given to her. ‘You may have noticed that the house is shut up? Well, that is because Mr Stockmayer and I have decided to live permanently in Austria. We’re staying at Claridge’s until the time comes for us to move. That’s where I’ve come from this afternoon. Now, how can I help you? I was intrigued to receive your note.’
Mrs Stockmayer’s voice carried a hint of foreign intonation, but her English was perfect. She spoke with the authority of someone who was used to being obeyed, but there was no
there. She had a round, pretty, gentle face, which made her seem younger than her years.
‘Mrs Stockmayer, my sergeant there – Sergeant Knollys – paid a visit yesterday to your dressmaker, Madame Laplace, in Bond Street. He showed her a dress – a, green silk dress, which she identified as having once belonged to you—’
‘Ah, yes! That would have been the
lovely dress. When it went out of fashion, I passed it on to my
, Garbutt. But why on earth should you want to know about one of my old dresses?’
Box did not reply. Instead, he asked another question.
‘You gave her some white court shoes, too, didn’t you, ma’am?’
Mrs Stockmayer looked swiftly at both men, and then went very pale. She could hear the death knell tolling behind Box’s seemingly innocent words.
‘I’m sorry to tell you, ma’am,’ said Box, ‘that Amelia Garbutt has been found dead. She was murdered.’
Mrs Stockmayer began to sob quietly. She produced a
from her sleeve, and dabbed her eyes. This weeping, thought Box, is quite sincere. Mrs Stockmayer was living proof that, just because people had pots of money, it didn’t mean that they had to be as hard as nails.
‘She was the best lady’s-maid I ever had,’ said Mrs Stockmayer in a low voice. ‘She came to me in 1887. The April, it was. From the start, she had more the air of a companion than a lady’s maid. She was very nicely spoken, and clearly well educated. Murdered? It seems incredible. Alphonse – my husband – will be most concerned to hear it. He’s a merchant banker, you know, specializing in railway finance. Oh dear! I can’t believe it!’
Mrs Stockmayer began to sob again. It took her a while to regain her composure. ‘If it won’t distress you too much, ma’am,’ said Box, ‘I’ll tell you a few details. Miss Garbutt was found dead, garrotted, in a canal in Essex—’
‘At Bardley?’ Mrs Stockmayer’s voice suddenly gained a sharp edge.
‘Why, yes, ma’am. At Bardley. She was wearing the green silk dress, and also a very valuable diamond necklace. You were obviously a generous employer, Mrs Stockmayer. Did you, perhaps—?’
‘No, I certainly didn’t give Garbutt a diamond necklace!’ Mrs Stockmayer smiled in spite of her distress. ‘Garbutt would not have had such an item – she would never have had enough money to buy such a costly thing. Besides, no one with a modicum of taste would wear a necklace with that dress. So if you found a necklace around her neck, then someone must have put it there after she died … And that’s ridiculous, too, because people are murdered for their jewellery, not given it after they’ve been murdered!’
Box looked at Mrs Stockmayer with a kind of awed respect. She, too, had sensed the enigma of the necklace, its essential incongruity. It wouldn’t fit in to any pattern of probabilities. Well, it would have to be made to fit in …
‘You mentioned Bardley just now, Mrs Stockmayer.’
‘Yes. You see, when Alphonse – my husband – and I decided to move to Austria, I asked Garbutt whether she would like to
accompany us there. To Linz, where we have purchased an apartment. However, she didn’t want to leave England, so I recommended her as maid-companion to a friend of ours, Mrs Courtney, of Bardley, who was in need of someone like Garbutt. Her previous companion had left her, to look after a sick relative in Cumberland. Garbutt seemed very pleased with the
, I must say.’